When stepping in unison while playing a musical instrument, the learning curve is steep.
As the Columbus North High School Sound of North marching band prepares for Friday’s inauguration parade in Washington, D.C., 16 band members are learning marching cadences for the first time.
And they must master it in less than a week.
“It’s trying to get everything in line — play my instrument and trying to get my feet on the same foot as everyone else,” said Ryan Huff, a North senior who usually plays a keyboard synthesizer on the sidelines when the band performs. “And it’s trying to stay in line, forward and back, side and side,” he said.
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The band’s drum majors have taken on the role of drill sergeants for the marching novices, leading them through exercises and examples of marching properly.
Students divide into groups in the North hallways as the drum majors snap out a cadence before they begin.
“Five, six, five, six, seven, eight,” North senior drum major Brittany Davis chanted as she snapped her fingers and signaled for the band members to march forward.
Davis watched their every move — posture and steps — and worked with them individually and as a group about how they could improve.
The length of the hallway marches increased as the coaching continued, and the band members hustled back to their original starting point by running down the hallway to begin again at Davis’ command.
While it may seem odd that members of a band aren’t trained in marching in the middle of the school year, it’s not that unusual. Some of the band members were athletes in fall sports and didn’t march during the fall competitive season.
Most of the 161-member Sound of North are planning to march in the inaugural parade. A dozen marching band students had made other commitments before the trip was finalized.
Learning the ropes
Band member Ethan Edwards, a freshmen percussionist, said the learning process for him and others marching for the first time has been challenging.
Accustomed to standing in place and watching the band conductor for cues and tempo, Edwards said learning to focus on posture at all times while marching has been difficult, and something he needs to improve upon.
He has learned to look outside the corner of his eye along his line of marching band members to determine if he’s in line and in step.
Edwards is one of four band members who will carry a banner used in the band’s 2004 Rose Bowl Parade appearance which says “Columbus North High School, Columbus, Indiana.”
In addition to the evening practices with the band, Edwards has been practicing at home.
“I have other people to judge my steps and it’s a lot easier knowing where I’m going to stand, how fast I should go,” Edwards said.
Other band members including sophomore Caitlin Davey aren’t exactly new to marching. She previously marched with the band her freshman year, but is now re-learning how to do it.
“I didn’t think I would forget as much as I did, so a lot of the finer details are completely gone,” said Davey, who moved to the pit this year.
The band pit is usually made up of keyboardists, percussionists and others who are stationary in front of the band during the competitive marching season. It includes instruments such as the timpani, the large kettle drums which can’t move about on a football field.
Students stepping back into marching are feeling the pressure, she said.
“It was a communal sense of nervousness and none of us really wanted to go in front of all those people who have marched the past year and not look a part of the band,” she said.
While the hallway practices were designed to focus on posture, form and unison, the novices were also given a taste of what awaits in Washington, D.C.
The band went outside in 37-degree weather Thursday night, supervised by marching band director Keith Burton.
Burton told band members to expect temperatures in the 50s during the parade.
The band’s color guard also went out on the track to allow Burton to assess progress in marching skills and how the overall formation was performing.
“Line up, make sure you’re shoulder to shoulder, side to side,” Burton told the band members. “Watch your spaces, please.”
The practice is important because North’s band doesn’t perform in many parades. Many band members are much more comfortable with a pre-choreographed competitive show spread out across a football field.
“The biggest thing (for band members) is learning how to keep their feet moving in time,” Burton said.
There’s actually a secret behind the feet moving in time — in that it helps with the performance of the music, he said.
If marching feet are kept in tempo with the song, it makes the song easier to play and for the band members to stay in line with those around them.
During the parade, the North Color Guard will have four rows with five band members in each row.
Woodwind and brass plays will have seven performers in their rows and the percussion will have different formations due to different sections of the drum line.
Burton said he’s pleased with the band’s progress so far, particularly the newcomers who are working hard to blend in seamlessly with the veterans.
“(Thursday) was a good awakening for everybody,” he said. “Getting it on (the) move for the first time, it takes a little bit of an adjustment.”
The Sound of North marching band will practice from 5 to 7 p.m. Monday, followed by a student/parent meeting about the trip.
A final rehearsal is planned 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesday with the last 30 minutes open to the public. Depending on weather conditions, the public practice will either be at the football stadium or inside the school, 1400 25th St., in Columbus.
“None of us really wanted to go in front of all those people who have marched the past year and not look a part of the band.”
— Sophomore marching band member Caitlin Davey
“I have other people to judge my steps and it’s a lot easier knowing where I’m going to stand, how fast I should go.”
— Freshman marching band member Ethan Edwards